Why Don't Non-Profits Collaborate?

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“Why are there so many non-profits? Why can’t you all just work together?” It’s a common question I am asked, yet the answer isn’t as simple. We make it sound simple by saying, “We’d love to collaborate!” But, often that is where the conversation ends because our fears and past failures of teamwork keep us working on our own.

I had the opportunity to spend a day with a group of non-profit and faith community leaders this week as we discussed this very topic. We all came together because we do want to work together. We want to use our strengths to benefit all of us. “One body, many parts,” I found myself saying. Yet, when we started to break down the walls and talk about why collaboration fails, we all came up with the same answer:

We are.

We are the reason collaboration fails. We have great intentions—working together to achieve a common purpose or goal. Yet, when it comes time to talk about what we are going to give to the project to make it successful, we often approach it more about what we are going to get. We become territorial about our donors, our audiences, our resources, only to immobilize the conversation from being about you vs. me rather than we.

Partnership is the key to how we work at Blood:Water. It’s what makes us unique. Yet, it doesn’t make it easy. We are broken people with different expectations from each other. We don’t always know how to articulate those expectations, and our fear keeps us holding onto our stuff so tight we have a hard time letting go of the things that don’t really matter for the benefit of those things that do.

So, maybe if we each start collaborative pursuit with honest conversation about how we might fail each other, how we need to listen more than talk, how we have to desire to give more than take, we don’t have to be surprised when we hit a wall. We can work together through those times because we know by doing that, it will make us all stronger. A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s just not forget to bring the life preservers with us.

What keeps you from collaborating with others?